What Makes A Good Stethoscope?

Choosing the best stethoscope for your medical team may be more challenging than you think. The stethoscope is one of the most classic, yet critical, medical instruments you can provide for your team, and one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. At its core, a stethoscope is a highly sensitive piece of equipment, and finding the right one for the task and the medical professional can make or break patient outcomes.

10 Important Features to Look for in a Stethoscope

1. High-Quality Acoustics

2. Good Fit for Medical Specialty

3. Tunable Chest Pieces

4. Easy to Clean

5. Flexible Diaphragm

6. Durable Materials

7. Comfort and Ease of Use

8. Versatility

9. Cost

10. Personal Preference

With the right research and preparation, you can arm your team with the reliable equipment that helps them make thorough and accurate assessments and diagnoses, which ultimately helps ensure the best possible outcomes for your patients.

10 Important Features to Look for in a Stethoscope

As with many pieces of medical equipment, a stethoscope can be as basic or as complex as your team’s needs and preferences dictate. Many different models exist, and the basic instrument technology has changed much over the years. Today’s models range from simple acoustic versions to digital, high-performance options, many of which include Bluetooth capability and built-in amps.


1. High-Quality Acoustics

The very heart of a good stethoscope is its ability to amplify the sounds a medical professional is listening for when measuring vital signs – blood pressure, pulse, lung sounds, fluid, abdominal gas, breath sounds, etc. Your team will use their stethoscopes consistently for listening, so they must deliver high-quality sound to the end user. Your team will need to test various versions and choose which delivers the best sound quality for them. After all, not every medical professional has the same level of hearing ability, so not every stethoscope will deliver the same quality to everyone. For medical professionals who hear well and work in a general practice setting, a classic binaural stethoscope (designed for listening through both ears) can be a perfect fit. But a physician with even minor hearing loss may need a different, more sensitive, or even hearing-impaired version. Hearing-impaired options can amplify sounds without being influenced by ambient noise.

You might also consider a version with a dual-membrane chamber, which comes equipped with a specialized sound chamber that amplifies both high-frequency and low-frequency sound. Depending on the operational environment, your best choice may be a version that can help block out noise in order to pinpoint the specific sounds your medical team needs to hear.

You have several different options depending on your needs, including basic, acoustic stethoscope models, plus Littmann classic versions with dual-frequency membranes that capture low and high-frequency sounds on either side of the chest piece. With these models, medical professionals hear higher frequencies with firm pressure, and lower frequencies when they apply light pressure. You can also find electronic stethoscope versions, which are high-tech models with the ability to detect a much greater range of frequencies than their acoustic counterparts. Not only do they help your team hear more and reduce ambient noise, but they also allow record-keeping via Bluetooth technology so that your team can record and track changes within the same patient over time.

Pay special attention to the stethoscope’s rubber tubing – it’s responsible for the elimination of outside noises and for overall sound transmission. Make sure to check that it’s constructed from a hardy, and durable–yet flexible–material, such as polyvinyl chloride, and that it can resist cracking–along with folding without breaks or kinks.

2. Good Fit for Medical Specialty

Individual medical specialties often require specific types of stethoscopes. Stethoscopes are typically classified as general/classic, or as specialty versions like a cardiology stethoscope, teaching stethoscope, Doppler stethoscope, veterinary stethoscope, pediatric stethoscope, telemedicine stethoscope or even digital stethoscope. You can also find electronic versions, and all of these various types are designed to fulfill a specific purpose: to deliver the right level of sensitivity for the tasks and medical staff that use them. For example, a cardiac stethoscope is going to be sensitive and offer more sophisticated acoustics than a version designed for general practice application. It has the highest quality acoustics in order to easily distinguish among various heart sounds. Pediatric stethoscopes, on the other hand, are distinguishable by their unique size, usually with a diameter of approximately one inch, and are uniquely designed and contoured for smaller child bodies, or even infants.

3. Tunable Chest Pieces

The chest piece is exactly what it sounds like: It’s the piece of the stethoscope that healthcare professionals lay against the patient’s chest (or back, etc.) in order to hear internal sounds necessary to make a diagnosis. It captures vibrations from the surface. When the chest piece is tunable, it allows professionals to hear different sounds depending on the pressure placed on the chest piece. Many chest pieces are composed of two elements–the bell and diaphragm. The diaphragm is the flat side, while the other side is called the bell. The chest piece is the part of the stethoscope that actually conducts sound.

4. Easy to Clean

Physicians and other medical professionals come into contact with a myriad of patients throughout the course of the day, and most of them will carry various viruses, bacteria, and disease on the surface of their skin. It’s imperative to choose a stethoscope that’s easy to clean so that these microbes don’t inadvertently catch a ride from one patient to another as doctors and nurses make their rounds. A dermatologically safe, hygienic stethoscope can be cleaned and sterilized on a regular basis. Those made with chromed brass, for example, are less porous and more hygienic than the typical stainless steel.

5. Flexible Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a plastic disk inside the chest piece that vibrates in response to surface sound. As it vibrates, it creates an acoustic pressure wave that then travels to the end user through an air-filled tube and ultimately out of the stethoscope earpieces at the other end. To be most effective, a stethoscope’s diaphragm should comprise a flexible and high-quality material. PE compound film and resin are often good choices. The diaphragm should also be air-sealed, which helps make sure amplified sound comes through to the end user crystal clear.

6. Durable Materials

Stethoscopes are primarily made from aluminum and rubber. You’ll want to make sure that the versions selected for your stethoscope are top quality. Lower-quality raw materials can affect the weight, comfort, and acoustic functionality of a stethoscope. The model you choose should be durable and long-lasting so that it remains in your medical team’s tool kit for a very long time.

7. Comfort and Ease of Use

Keep in mind that medical professionals often wear their stethoscopes around their necks even when they are not in use. They need a lightweight stethoscope so that it remains comfortable when in place for the duration of a workday. In addition, earpieces should be soft and rubber tubing should be flexible/pliable in order to maximize comfort for your medical team. When your medical team feels discomfort while a stethoscope is in their ears, that can cause tremendous frustration and even lead to poor patient outcomes.

Since the purpose of the stethoscope is to enhance a medical professional’s performance, it needs to have a comfortable fit in order to ensure that your medical professional uses it to its fullest potential. Look for an ergonomic design that includes ear tips that are both soft and ergonomically shaped. This makes a tremendous difference in a medical caregiver’s ability to perform effectively over long shifts. Ear tubes should be symmetrical to ensure maximum ear-tip seal and comfort for your team. Furthermore, the headset should be adjustable so that each professional can adjust for individual fit and comfort.

8. Versatility

Medical professionals see many types of patients throughout an average day, so their stethoscopes must be designed to adjust as needed. They must be able to work effectively on all types of bodies, including large, small, young, and old. Some physicians prefer a dual-head stethoscope because it allows them to quickly and easily switch from a smaller head to larger head based on the needs of the particular patient.

9. Cost

It’s important to perform an effective cost-benefit analysis before making a large purchase for your medical facility. While you don’t want to overspend on unnecessary bells and whistles, you should also keep in mind that the stethoscope is a foundational part of any medical professional’s ability to provide top-quality patient care–so it isn’t an area on which you want to skimp. In fact, some professionals assert that stethoscopes are the most important medical devices they will ever own. Consider carefully the budget you can allocate to these pieces so that you’re equipping your team with quality instruments. You should view this as an important investment in your team’s success. Some stethoscope models may last for the duration of a health care professional’s entire career.

10. Personal Preference

While it isn’t the key function of a stethoscope, it does serve as an important and notable part of the health care professional’s uniform. People associate a stethoscope with trust, knowledge, and credibility. At the end of the day, the members of your team will likely have many personal preferences about how they want their individual stethoscopes to look and feel. After all, many versions come in a wide variety of unique colors and styles. Make sure to confer with your team and allow them some freedom to choose something they love and will want to wear all day, every day. Some stethoscopes can even be personalized, so many people like to give them as gifts, especially for students graduating from a school of medicine or nursing.

The Importance of the Stethoscope

A health care professional’s stethoscope isn’t just a part of the uniform; it’s a vital piece of equipment that helps your team successfully examine, diagnose, and treat patients. In fact, sometimes a patient’s life can even depend on having the right stethoscope during an exam to ensure they receive the correct dose of medicine.

Finding the best stethoscope can be a challenge. For all intents and purposes, stethoscopes serve as an extension of your medical team’s senses and are perhaps the most commonly used medical devices within a medical or health care setting. Be sure to perform an evaluation before making your purchase: The needs of your nursing and PA staff, for example, will differ greatly from the needs of your physicians. Work with your team to help determine their day-to-day needs and how their stethoscopes would best support their work.

The experienced staff at Vital Medical Supplies can help you select a good stethoscope and many other medical products. We have experience researching and recommending medical supplies and equipment. Please contact us if you have any questions about the right equipment or supplies. Call us today at (087) 265 8944, or email info@vitalmedical.co.za

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